Ambassador Spotlight: Caitlin Yong
Name: Caitlin Yong
Location: Denver Metro area
How long have you been an ambassador? Since April 2021
Favorite Athletic beer: Run Wild and Free Wave (anything with hops)
Caitlin Yong can’t sit still for too long.
She shreds both pavement and snow. She’s been a professional downhill skateboarder, and when the weather’s cold, she takes her adventures to the backcountry on a splitboard.
Not only is she a trailblazer in both sports, but she’s actively building community around them as well to guide others -- especially underrepresented communities -- into the action sports world. That’s why Caitlin founded the Backcountry Together community as a way to grow the sport she loves.
“Backcountry Together is a community, and we host meetups to aim to lower the barrier to entry for BIPOCs into backcountry splitboarding and skiing, since it’s a pretty costly sport to get into. I created this organization because I faced that in my first year in the backcountry,” Caitlin said.
“So that’s why I started Backcountry Together with the help of some friends and advisers. That, and finding a community where we can feel safe and welcome to really be ourselves is really amazing. I didn’t find that when I first started. So we’re pretty excited to grow the community and support each other.”
Backcountry Together may be a relatively new venture, but it’s already caught the attention of companies like Arc’teryx and Weston.
Read on to learn more about Backcountry Together and Caitlin’s incredible achievements in this month’s Ambassador Spotlight.
Tell me a little bit about your background in sports/activities, what are some of your favorite ways to stay active?
I started in this action sports world with my dad teaching me how to ski when I was 3, and then teaching me how to skateboard too. We would skateboard in the garage. My dad would move the cars out, and me and my brother would skate in circles. So I grew up with that, and I grew up with going to ski resorts, like going to Salt Lake City for winter break each year. That made me fall in love with snow sports.
I transitioned from skiing to snowboarding in middle school. Once I went to college for my bachelor’s, I wanted to keep snowboarding but it was so expensive, and I couldn’t afford to go on the ski club trips, so I was like, OK, I’ll get into longboarding. So I would longboard for fun, and I found a small community.
I helped create the official longboard club at Purdue University, and it blossomed from there. I hosted events; I was training every day. I had a GoPro set up on the hill to see my technique and see how I could improve. Then I started to get a couple sponsors, and they wanted to see how I would perform on race days. I did really well, so it kept going from there. Sponsors started paying for travel and stipends, and then [I was] able to go race internationally on the circuit.
That was a pretty amazing part of my life. Now, I bring that experience into splitboarding. I love splitboarding, camping, backpacking and just being outside. I love that adrenaline. I’m learning how to skate at the skatepark now. It’s kind of different from mountain roads. It's relatively safer since there are fewer chances for cars to run me over.
(Photo credit: Jeff Suchy)
What was it like being a woman and trailblazer in an adrenaline-fueled sport like downhill longboarding, especially as a pro, and how do you think it has changed over the years?
I feel like it is more prevalent now. It is normal for a woman to be more adventurous, and love these action sports. But before, it’s like, “Oh, girls don’t really play sports like that” or [that women] don’t really like adrenaline sports. You might get injured. My mom really did not like me downhill skateboarding. Well, she still doesn’t like it. I would always come home with bruised up knees and scars, and my grandma would say, “Oh, you should get plastic surgery on your knees to fix those scars from skateboarding.” They’re a part of me. It’s kind of like a tattoo. It tells a lot of stories about my adventures of downhill skateboarding.
Now, there’s so many role models out there. We’re able to live this lifestyle of having a career, then be able to go snowboarding every weekend. There’s that balance now, and [there are] a lot more women being able to do both.
Can you tell us more about Backcountry Together and how you got that off the ground?
Backcountry Together is a community, and we host meetups to aim to lower the barrier to entry for BIPOCs into backcountry splitboarding and skiing, since it’s a pretty costly sport to get into. I created this organization because I faced that in my first year in the backcountry. It’s an expensive sport to get into. Already a splitboard is about $1,000, and then you have to get avalanche safety courses, safety gear ... It’s kind of hard to get in that way.
I was thrown into the course because everyone was telling me to get my AIARE 1 before going into the backcountry. But then it was my second time splitboarding, so I didn’t know how to transition the board from skis to snowboard, or use my bindings very well. I was trying to learn that at the avalanche safety course, so I was overloaded with information and had a rather negative experience. I highly encourage people to get familiar with their gear inbounds at the ski resort. But then after that, we recommend they go to the AIARE 1 course to understand how to safely navigate avalanche terrain.
So that’s why I started Backcountry Together with the help of some friends and advisers. That, and finding a community where we can feel safe and welcome to really be ourselves is really amazing. I didn’t find that when I first started. So we’re pretty excited to grow the community and support each other.
How did you find Athletic Brewing, and what about it caught your attention?
I realized alcohol was dampening my performance as an athlete and causing hardships on some of my relationships a couple of years ago. So I was searching online. It’s nice to have a nonalcoholic option that’s like, wow -- that tastes like a real beer.
I love a [good] IPA. It’s nice when you have a race or a splitboarding day or a backcountry day the following day. It won’t reduce your performance. I like that aspect, and the community-oriented and non-profit side, like what Alex Showerman is doing -- amazing. She was at our first meetup event. I was like, I want to be a part of this, it has similar values to what I believe in.
Why did you apply to become an ambassador?
I wanted to share that there’s another way to celebrate the day. I liked how the community of ambassadors were very like-minded individuals, and in different sports too, like sports that I don't even know about. It’s awesome to learn about their different perspectives. We support each other through all our different obstacles and goals, and that’s been pretty amazing. I just wanted to help support Athletic and be able to say there’s other alternatives to alcohol.
When I was growing up, I saw alcohol as being the cool thing to do. And when I was skateboarding, it was a huge part of the scene. It seemed like if you weren’t drinking, you weren’t part of the community. That was pretty hard. I want to be able to show a positive lifestyle for kids and other young adults that says you don’t need to drink alcohol to be in the community and be cool, you can do whatever is true to you.
What are some of your proudest achievements (athletic or not)?
I’m pretty proud of becoming a professional downhill skateboarder. It was a big dream of mine to be a professional athlete. One of my other goals was becoming an engineer, being able to have an impactful job that helps the public, so I became a transportation engineering. And having that balance of snowboarding and working. I never thought I'd be here. When I was a child, I always thought people with 9 to 5’s were boring. I didn’t want to sell out, but look, you can have it all.
What is a bucket list event or race that you’d love to compete in?
I don’t have specific events, but I want to run an event -- a 24-hour relay race for uphill touring at a resort for a charity. That’s been a goal of mine.
How has the ambassador program helped you in your professional, personal or athletic endeavors?
The ambassador program has empowered me to achieve my goals. With starting Backcountry Together, the ambassador program gave me the support and confidence I needed to launch the organization and community. The other companies I work with, like Mountain Mind Project, have really coached me through things to launch Backcountry Together, too.
What’s your favorite recovery food?
I really like Thai food. Yellow curry is my go-to. I can quickly order it right after a huge adventurous day. It’s low maintenance, fat and a lot of carbs and veggies.
What do you like to do on your rest days?
I’m usually in the Denver Archipelago club houses. It’s a social club I volunteer with. They have a sauna and an ice bath, so usually I’m there co-working and doing a nice sauna/ice bath/meditation session. And I meditate.
My morning routine is waking up, setting up the yoga mat and doing a 5-minute meditation. That’s how I start my day every day to ground myself, be present and slow down life a little bit. Usually day-to-day there are a gazillion things in my mind that I need to do and so many projects. So it’s nice that meditation helps me restart the day with a fresh mind every day.
I recently partnered with Mountain Mind Project. [They provide] mindfulness coaching. It’s been pretty extraordinary to be able to have that support along the journey and be able to bring meditation into splitboarding, hiking and camping, to be able to focus in very high-stress atmospheres when you’re doing action sports.
I have high anxiety in some aspects, like when things get pretty tough in the mountains. Meditation really helps channel the anxiety. It’s very interesting that a lot of action sports is, like, a mental game. You need to feel confident, or everything falls apart. Even though your body and your muscles are fine, you have to train your mind too.
What’s a little-known fact about you that you’d like to share?
Something that not too many people know is that I'm a traffic intelligent transportation system engineer. I really love helping make the transportation system more efficient. I really want to put more of my efforts to help the ski community choose more sustainable transportation options through the mountains. That’s always something I’m thinking about, and that’s another effort I want to launch some day.
What gets you up and out of bed every day?
How beautiful life is, how beautiful the outdoors are, and just how amazing everyone in the community is. What we create is pretty magical and really unique. I think it's all changing everyday, which is pretty exciting and fun.
What does living without compromise mean to you?
To be able to achieve all my goals without really needing to sacrifice any aspect of my dreams.
(Photo credit: Austin Day)
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